I've never, ever wanted to give an athlete a big ol' hug before, but Gabby Douglas needs one ASAP. In the age of hyper communication powered by social media and smart phones, ideas and information are exchanged faster than they have ever been in the history of the world. One would think that's a good thing, but that would be a misnomer.
Gymnast Gabby Douglas has done nothing but win and smile since blessing the nation with her efforts during the 2012 London Olympic Games. However, as a Black woman in America, her feats were given qualifiers and stipulations that had nothing to do with her stupendous athletic performances.
She won two gold medals in London, but was maligned but critics for nothing more than their disgustingly American superficiality.
Her hair was criticized, her cheekbones, her full lips, broad nose and even her demeanor was taken to task by trolls tainted with jealousy and perhaps even racism. She has graced the cover of Sports Illustrated, Time magazine, and has appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show to discuss the racist bullying that almost made her quit the sport, and much more.
Athletes, no matter their gender, are often depicted as single-minded automatons who stubbornly pursue their goals of greatness with a myopic, laser-like focus. But athletes are people, too.
In the case of Douglas, simply making it as far as she had was a practice in resilience and determination that most Americans can hardly fathom. The criticisms that were showered upon her, and perhaps the fact that a large portion of the idiot brigade shared her skin color and physical features, had to have been painful.
As the world moved away from the hype and excitement of the 2012 Summer Games, it seemed like Americans finally were ready to shut their traps and simply celebrate a living piece of history. A Wheaties box, a Lifetime original movie based on her life and a reality TV show on Oxygen. She got to take part in a performance by Alicia Keys and Nicki Minaj at the MTV Video Awards and even had a Barbie doll created in her likeness.
(Photo Credit: Mattel Toys)
I thought all of that chaos was well behind her, and she likely did as well.
Little did we know how steeped our fellow countrymen are in racially insensitive excreta and even self-hate. With a smile as bright as the sun, eyes that glow with sincerity and lips of shimmering rose petals the likes of which any young man would be fortunate to see beckoning him, and a sculpted, goddess-like physique and we see why all disdain and commentary that paints her as some sort of abomination can only be consigned to the circular data file where such rubbish belongs.
It drives me to near delirium that people in America would ever fix their face to disparage her.
Though objectifying black women is a cultural faux pas among the enlightened, I felt it necessary to mention her positive physical traits due to the ferocious nature that others have struck her down.
As soon as her lovely smile flashed across the screen during the Women's Gymnastics Team competition, the same old venom from four years ago was sprayed all over social media. The same old hair comments, the same old nose comments, and the same old unnecessary scrutiny for a Black girl who just wants to make her family, friends, teammates and country proud.
What the hell is the problem?
(Photo Credit: Fort Worth Star-Telegram)
Recently, Douglas finished seventh out of eight on the uneven bars, her only individual event at these Olympics. In the 2012 Games, Douglas was full of energy and smiles.
However, the now 20-year-old appears to hold no illusions as to the petty and hateful nature of her detractors. And it clearly showed on her face. They say she didn't cheer hard enough for her teammates and she didn't place her hand over her heart during the medal ceremony when the national anthem was playing, but it wasn't really about any of that.
“Well, in my head I had pictured it a little bit differently,” Douglas said of her Olympic experience this time around. “I think everybody does. You want to picture yourself on top and doing those routines and being amazing. When you go through a lot and you have so many difficulties and people are against you sometimes, it kind of just determines your character. Are you going to stand? Or are you going to stumble?”
“Geez,” Douglas said. “I’ve been trying to stay off the internet because it is so much negativity. And … ah … I’m like, ‘What?’ … When they talk about my hair or me not putting my hand on my heart or me being salty in the stands and, you know, really criticizing me … and it doesn’t feel good. For me, it was a little bit hurtful.
"At first they were like, ‘Good job, you’re in the Olympics,’” Douglas continued. “And then they kind of turn on you. It was hurtful. It was kind of a lot to deal with and you kind of have to stay away from that … [With] everything I had to go through and everything I have gone through, it’s just been a lot this time around."
As alluded to earlier, successful athletes are able to be hyper-focused on the task at hand. Anything that compromises that focus is a detriment to their success.
In London, her spirit weathered the storm. In Rio, her age and prior experience has likely taught her that no matter what she does, haters are still gonna hate. That's a lot to deal with and her seventh place finish on the uneven bars may had something to do with that.
But I don't blame her for being disheartened or distracted. I applaud her for being able to achieve what she has despite them.
Mad love from The Shadow League. You will forever be a champion in our hearts.